Christopher Casson Exhibition at Dublin City Archives 2

As part of Archives Awareness Month Events at Dublin City Archives, "ChristopherCasson: The First Gentleman of the Irish Stage "Exhibition was launched at Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2 on Monday 4 October.

Best known to television audiences as Canon Browne in the long running RTE series The Riordans, Christoper Casson was an actor of immense charm and an impressive technique,and has been affectionately described as "The First Gentleman of the Irish Stage". This exhibition is designed to celebrate his life and career, and to mark the transfer of the Christopher Casson Papers to the Irish Theatre Archive at Dublin City Library and Archive

Born on 20 March 1912 in Manchester, Christopher was the younger son of the celebrated theatrical couple, Dame Sybil Thorndike and Sir Lewis Casson. He made his stage debut at age 3 in a crowd scene in Julius Caesar at the Old Vic.

Christopher Casson 1912-1996
Christopher Casson 1912-1996

After training at the HMS Worcester and at the Royal Naval College Dartmouth, and a brief naval career, Christopher enrolled at Elsie Fogarty's Central School of Dramatic Art at the Albert Hall. His professional theatrical life began in 1930, when he toured with Ben Greet's company, playing Shakespearean roles. He also toured to Egypt, Palestine, Australia, and New Zealand, where he appeared with his parents.

In 1938, Christopher joined the Edwards and MacLiammoir company at the Gate in Dublin and in 1941 married the Irish artist and stage designer, Kay O'Connell, with his mentor Micheal MacLiammoir as best man. By 1946, Christopher had become an Irish Citizen, and converted to Roman Catholicism. He moved to Longford Productions at the Gate Theatre, where he acted and directed until becoming a freelance actor in 1950, working in television, radio, stage and screen.

His celebrated roles on stage include the title role in Hofmannsthal's Every man at the Old Capital Theatre and the lead role in This Other Eden by Louis D'Alton, which enjoyed a record breaking run at the Abbey Theatre in 1953. Christopher attained national recognition when he joined the cast of RTE's The Riordans. He also had parts in BBC and ITV productions, notably The Irish RM, Autumn Sunshine and Strangers and Brothers. His film credits include Captain Lightfoot, Shake Hands with the Devil, and Frankie Starlight.

Christopher was a deeply spiritual and intellectual man. He was a distinguished harpist and ballad singer, and a talented visual artist. He taught dramatic speech to Irish priests at All Hallows College for over forty years.

In July 1984, Christopher was honoured withan 'Equity for Life Membership', presented to him at the Gate during a run of A Woman of No Importance. In 1995, while performing as Sir William Lucas in the Gate's Pride and Prejudice, Christopher celebrated his eighty-third birthday and his eightieth year on stage. This was marked by a surprised inner hosted by the Gate Theatre at the Berkeley Court Hotel, with over 400 guests in attendance. Christopher died on 9 July 1996.

The exhibition explores all aspects of his character through a display of letters, spiritual writings, paintings, and a series of photographs which span his entire career. Also on view will be the poignant documentary produced by Esperanza Productions "Atribute to Christopher Casson" which was filmed just two weeks before Christopher's death.

Casson with Milo O Shea in Yeats Purgatory 1951
Casson with Milo O'Shea in Yeat's Purgatory, 1951

To launch the exhibition a special evening of musical memoirs took place in Dublin City Library and Archive on 4 October. A programme of song, poetry and harp, selected to celebrate and reflect on Christopher's life was performed by Christopher's daughter Glynis Casson and harpist Cormac DeBarra. The exhibition will be on display at Dublin City Library and Archive from 4 October-29 October from Mon-Thurs 10am-8pm; Fri-Sat 10am-5pm. It will then tour the Dublin Public Library Branch network in 2010 and 2011.

Ellen Murphy

Dublin City Library and Archive.

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